When thinking of silent film, we usually think of low-frame rate, black-and-white movies that were made almost a century ago with Charlie Chaplin in it. But whether or not we realise it, silent film is beginning to return in highly innovative and unexpected ways. While the silence of silent films was due to the limitation of cinema technology of those times, today, it is also technology that facilitates narratives that are almost entirely visual. They don’t appear in cinemas and aren’t hour-long productions, but they are ubiquitous and, some would claim, highly addictive.
Take a regular war film produced in the last ten years, and then take something like “Bridge Over the River Kwai” and watch them back to back. The latter film is a classic, but it’s basic difference from a modern production is pace. Old movies seem slow, while modern films tend to get straight to the action in an effort to grab and retain the viewer’s attention. There are many theories as to why this shift in cinematography is happening. Some hypothesize that the general volume of information that a modern person receives in a day is enormous. We are becoming desensitised to visual information as a stimulus, and so that information has to be content dense for us to be interested. This is also true of online video, such as Youtube, where the best length for an entertainment video is about 4 minutes. Note, that this applies specifically to entertainment, and may not necessarily apply to educational or niche content. Video and film are usually categorized as entertainment. And short videos that contain a brief narrative without much auditory content is becoming a huge trend.
A silent film is basically a motion picture with sound in the background, usually instrumental music that sets the tone and mood of the scene, and some text on the screen for added information. Platforms, such as Vine (no longer operational) and TikTok are perfect to host silent video content between 6 and 60 seconds. Video, including film, is now increasingly consumed on mobile devices, making high demands for content producers to be very selective about the content they include. Videos that come in the form of entertainment usually have a situational narrative with some text on the screen for context and music playing in the background to indicate the kind of content viewers can expect in a few seconds. In fact, there are a few songs in popular circulation in any given month that overlay a trendy narrative that each creator has their own take on. The original sound of the recording itself is usually removed, since it’s not necessary. In essence, what we are observing is a global obsession with short silent films with music in the background and on-screen text for context. The fascinating aspect is the amateur nature of this trend that, nevertheless, is by no means a hindrance to popularity. In a time of daily sensory overload, the short video format demands that only the essential content is included in a video, resulting in increasingly innovative short silent films of modern day.